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Christmas Spells

Justin Bond and The Pixie Harlots deliver a fabulously unforgettable gender-bending holiday spectacular.

Justin Bond and The Pixie Harlots star in Christmas Spells
(© Michael Hart)
A wailing figure garbed in an outrageous, oversized outfit gives birth to a disco ball in the opening moments of Christmas Spells, now at the Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center. This wildly irreverent nativity scene sets just the right tone for the gender-bending holiday spectacular that follows, which is created and performed by Justin Bond and The Pixie Harlots -- a ragtag troupe of drag artists. And while the show doesn't always come together, it is fabulously unforgettable.

There are two primary components to the evening, the first of which features Bond -- clad in a resplendent red glittery gown designed by Machine Dazzle and Todd Thomas -- performing a holiday cabaret. The performer belts out standard seasonal fare such as "Sleigh Ride" and "Frosty the Snowman," as well as more subversive offerings like Benjamin Smoke's "Somebody's House Always Burns at Christmas." Later in the show, he even sings one of his own compositions, a response to the religious right's anti-gay activities, with the song's lyrics asking "Could Baby Jesus in his manger foresee the hate sprung from that night?"

Bond also regales the audience with bizarre, supposedly true tales such as a story about a drag queen who went around punching babies, and Bond's own fall down a long flight of stairs where he pretended to be drunk because he recalled that drunk people don't hurt themselves as much in a fall as sober people. The persona he projects is not too far off from his most famous creation -- Kiki of Kiki and Herb fame -- particularly as he starts to down glasses of bourbon and takes a hit off a bottle of poppers.

Christmas Spells also includes a theatrical adaptation of Kate Bornstein's short story "Dixie Belle," which imagines that Huckleberry Finn had a few further adventures -- this time as a transvestite prostitute nicknamed "Sassy Sarah" who works for Madame Violet's Parlor of Elysian Delights in New Orleans. Bond narrates the story as a letter to Civil War veteran and best friend Tom Sawyer, as the Pixie Harlots act out the raunchy fable. This segment also includes several songs, such as a well-placed rendition of The Gossip's "Dimestore Diamond" as the Harlots display their wares to potential customers.

The kind of drag that the Pixie Harlots practice emphasizes androgyny -- and at times outright masculinity -- rather than a more traditional sense of femininity. The costumes they sport are sexy and over-the-top, just like the performers themselves.

The opening night of Christmas Spells was beset by a number of difficulties, starting with a microphone that kept giving out. Bond eventually ditched it, singing unamplified for the rest of the evening. And while you sometimes had to strain to hear him over the live, four-piece band, the gifted performer possesses presence to spare and easily won the audience to his side in the face of this technical adversity.

More problematic was the under-rehearsed quality of the "Dixie Belle" segment. Bond kept losing track of his place in the script, which played havoc with the show's pacing. The Pixie Harlots also pitch just about everything at the same heightened level, and a little more subtlety could have been useful in places.

There were also complications with the band, as their playing did not always line up with Bond's singing -- and the performer was quick to let them know when it wasn't right. Additionally, a planned encore of The Carpenters' "Merry Christmas, Darling" had to be aborted as the cast and musicians didn't seem to remember how it goes! With a little more work, Christmas Spells could be amazing. As it is, the evening is probably best summed up by my theater companion at show's end: "I've never seen a better example of a hot tranny mess."